Ultimaker S3 vs. Formlabs Form 3: 3D Printer Comparison
Picking the best 3D printer for your application can be difficult, especially if you’re new to additive manufacturing. But even the most seasoned veterans can find it a challenge to differentiate between top-of-the-line machines. And make no mistake, the Ultimaker …
Picking the best 3D printer for your application can be difficult, especially if you’re new to additive manufacturing. But even the most seasoned veterans can find it a challenge to differentiate between top-of-the-line machines.
And make no mistake, the Ultimaker S3 and Formlabs Form 3 sit at the top. Both come from reputable manufacturers with a long history of success and are capable of tackling even the most challenging 3D printing projects. They can print in extremely high quality and have built up dedicated fan bases.
But one has to be better than the other… Right? Not necessarily, and you’re about to find out why.
|Ultimaker S3||Formlabs Form 3|
|Technology||Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)||SLA/Low Force Stereolithography (SLF)|
|Ease of Use||4.7” touchscreen; Wi-Fi/Ethernet/USB connectivity||5.5” color touchscreen; Wi-Fi/Ethernet/USB 2.0 connectivity|
|Print Volume||230 x 190 x 200 mm||145 x 145 x 185 mm|
|Minimum Layer Height||20 microns||25 microns|
|Materials||PLA, ABS, Nylon, CPE, PC, PP, TPU, PVA, third-party 2.85 mm filaments||Standard, engineering, castable, and dental model resins|
|Special Features||Reinforced feeder wheels, dual filament flow sensors, print camera, active leveling, heated glass build platform, open filament system||Automatic leveling, air-heated build platform, closed system, Wash and Cure stations|
|Software||Ultimaker Cura, Ultimaker Digital Factory||Formlabs PreForm|
Comparing the technology of S3 and Form 3 is a bit like comparing apples to oranges — they function in fundamentally different ways. The S3 is an FFF printer that functions by extruding layer upon layer of heated materials, which is fed into the machine as a thin filament. The Form 3, on the other hand is an SLA printer, which uses a powerful laser beam to harden liquid resin into a solid object.
Both technologies have their pros and cons. FFF generally prints faster than SLA, and FFF filaments are cheaper than liquid resins. The S3 is also able to print with two different materials at once. However, even the finest FFF printer usually creates visible layer lines on the final product, which has a significant impact on the level of print detail.
SLA, on the other hand, prints slower with more expensive materials, but usually trounces on FFF when it comes to detail. SLA and the Form 3 can also print in clear materials, something that’s not possible with FFF due to layer lines distorting clear materials.
As a curious note, the S3 has a smaller minimum layer height than the Form 3, but reaching such fine resolution requires extensive experimentation on the user’s part. Still, we can’t say one technology is better than the other. The S3 is great for quick production of prototypes where detail isn’t as vital, while the Form 3 is the way to go for small detail.
Ease of use
Both printers provide identical connectivity options through Wi-Fi, LAN cable, and USB. No surprised there — you shouldn’t expect anything less from a modern 3D printer. A side note, though, the Form 3 is not able to push firmware updates over Wi-Fi and must be connected to a computer through USB.
Both also feature a large color touchscreen that makes using the printers easy. The Form 3 screen is slightly bigger, which should translate to higher usability. That said, the S3 screen has won several awards for its design and usability. Let’s just call this one a draw.
With print volume, we can finally announce a clear victor — the S3 has a much bigger print chamber than the Form 3. The larger print volume not only makes the S3 capable of printing larger parts, but also gives it more space to print several parts at once. Combine that with the generally higher print speed of FFF, and you have the more productive printer.
That said, it’s not like the Form 3’s chamber is small. In fact, it’s very well sized for an SLA printer. You also probably won’t be using SLA printing for enormous parts, so the lower print volume shouldn’t be a huge issue.
Since the printer technologies are so different, it’s again hard to say whether the materials on the S3 or Form 3 are better. Ultimaker says the S3 work with 110 different filaments, while the Form 3 supports Formlabs’ standard (clear included) and engineering resins, together with castable wax resins and one dental model resin.
However, the S3 has a huge advantage when compared to the Form 3 — it’s an open materials printer. That means you can feed it practically any 2.85 mm filament from any manufacturer and it will work. Third-party support not only opens a whole new world of materials for experimentation, you can most likely also save in material costs since you’re not tied to brand materials.
The Form 3 only works with Formlabs resins, and even within that range it doesn’t support all dental resins (those are reserved for Form 3B and 3BL). However, Formlabs says that an Open Mode for the Form 3 is in development.
Both printers feature a heated print platform with automated leveling to effortlessly keep your prints steady. The S3 also boasts reinforced feeder wheels and nozzles for printing with abrasive materials, and dual filament flow sensors that alert you when filament runs out.
Of course, the Form 3 doesn’t need any of that. Instead, Formlabs offers the Form Wash and Cure stations for post-processing prints and ensuring the best possible quality. Unfortunately, you have to buy both separately.
Again, though, the S3 has an ace up its sleeve against the Form 3. The S3 features a built-in camera which allows real-time monitoring of the print job. It’s unfortunate that Formlabs hasn’t included one in the Form 3.
The S3 comes with Ultimaker’s Cura for print preparation and Digital Factory for printer management. Formlabs consolidates both functions into one software — Formlabs PreForm.
Both Cura and PreForm support the most popular CAD file formats, including STL and OBJ, and are easy to use. However, since PreForm combines all functionality into one application, it pulls ahead in terms of usability. It also features a handy One-Click Print feature, which automatically orientates and position your part and auto-generates supports.
If you’re a Linux user, though, Formlabs let you down since PreForm only supports Windows and Mac computers. Ultimaker’s software also works on Linux, so it does have the advantage in operating system support.
Simply put, the Form 3 wins. At £2,900, it’s much cheaper than the S3, which retails for £3,585.
But here’s the catch — you’ll probably want the Wash and Cure stations for the Form 3, which will push the final price up. Formlabs materials are also more expensive, so running costs will further level the playing field. All in all, both printers are in the same price range.
So, who wins? If you’re looking for a clear answer declaring “this printer is better,” we’re sorry to disappoint you. It all depends on what you’re looking for.
The Ultimaker S3 has a larger print volume and we do like its open system and the print camera, so we’re saying it beats the Form 3 in features. But due to the inherent limitations of FFF technology, it just can’t compete in terms of final print detail and surface quality.
The bottom line is that both printers are capable machines that suit both beginners and professionals. Operators looking for fast prototyping and high production capacity will want to opt for the S3. But if you want the highest quality and the finest detail precision, the Form 3 is the machine for you — especially if you work with casting.